Open Rights Group call to action

This week, for the first time, public opinion was tested on the government’s proposals to disconnect people from the internet for copyright infringement.

Open Rights Group commissioned a YouGov poll, which came back with some remarkable findings.

The political implications are profound, if our poll is to be believed. While Labour have certainly got this wrong, we are yet to see any UK parliamentary party fully backing the public’s instincts shown in this poll. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats will be ready to pick up the challenge.

In our poll, 42% said that disconnection, should it be applied to them, would disrupt their work or education. And a hefty 63% said their use of vital commercial services like shopping and banking would be disrupted. Clearly, Gordon Brown was right when he said that the internet is becoming vital a service as electricity, gas or water.

Asked whether disconnection, if applied, should be automated and applied by Internet Service Providers, or only once a court has considered the evidence and circumstances, only 16% backed the government’s plan of automatic punishments, while 68% wanted the courts to decide.

When asked whether a party favouring disconnection was more or less likely to get their vote, a tiny 2% said that it would make them much more likely to vote for them. A further 5% would be a little more likely, while a whole 31% would be much less likely, and 13% a little less likely.

In other words, nearly 70% polled opposed the government’s plans, and nearly three quarters of that number are angry enough for the issue to change who they vote for.

A number of MPs wise enough to think that the right balance has not been struck have been signing Tom Watson MP’s Early Day Motion against disconnection proposals. Liberal Democrats are well represented among the signatories, but official pronouncements from both the Lib Dem and Conservative front benches on the issue are yet to be heard.

This is understandable, given everyone’s desire not to cause offence to the clearly troubled and divided music industry. And while ‘downloading’ is portrayed as a moral issue (good or bad, sharing or theft) rather than a symptom of market failure, it may seem like dangerous political territory.

But it is a serious political failure if the public can see the need for due process and proportionate punishments, and yet we hear little from the front benches echoing these concerns.

It is also wrong that the very serious market abuse in the online music business is not being examined by politicians. These abuses – from forcing Digital Rights Management on Napster, to forcing Spotify to hand over nearly 20% of their equity to music rights holders – stem from the lack of reasonable, non-discriminatory license conditions. Even the government seems to recognize some reform is needed, but does not discuss it publicly, presumably for fear of provoking the industry.

Campaigners including 38 Degrees and the Open Rights Group will be urging that politicians defend our civil liberties relating to these laws, and we urge Liberal Democrats to be in the forefront of that defence.

There has been an extraordinary lack of common sense, and a willingness to pander to authoritarian instincts, that we believe is seriously out of step with public opinion. Progressive politicians need to work to get us out of this mess, before Mandelson takes us to some very disturbing places.

That’s why the Open Right Group is asking you to join in our campaign to write to your MPs to ask them to sign the EDM today.

Jim Killock is a member of the Open Rights Group and a campaigner on open source, intellectual property and digital rights issues.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.
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One Comment

  • Unfortunately unlike other polling companies, YouGov do their polling OVER THE INTERNET. This makes this research flawed beyond belief. You can draw no conclusion from this research at all (except that Open Rights Group either don’t check out who they get to commission research, or they do and then have presented this research dishonestly, having known full well that about YouGov’s methods).

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